March 2018


Sri Lanka: the Island from Above
March 2018




A fisherman on the east coast

‘Sri Lanka: The Island from Above' a book by Sebastian Posingis, Dominic Sansoni and Richard Simon captures the aerial views of the varied terrain and beauty of the country in a 164-page spread of photographs and narratives.


Words: Rohan Pethiyagoda


The amateur biologist in me has often wondered why we are so fond of aerial vistas. Can there be a doubt that at a location in which land was plentiful, the palace of Parakramabahu I had seven storeys principally so His Majesty could gaze upon the vast expanse of his prosperous domain across the rice fields of Polonnaruwa? Or that Kasyapa didn't spend endless hours surveying the dry-zone plains from atop Sigiriya?


Reading ‘Sri Lanka: The Island from Above' made me wonder how this all began. Fortunately, the growing popularity of Victorian hot-air ballooning seems to have gone together with that of Victorian photography. The earliest surviving aerial photographs (of Paris) date to the 1860s. And with Eastman Kodak mass-producing portable cameras shortly thereafter, there was no question of the aerial camera becoming a solution in search of a problem. The Wright Brothers saw to that with the invention of the first airplane.


In the century that followed, photography from the air came into its own. Quite apart from aesthetes, urban planners, cartographers, surveyors and others all derived value from views from above. Photography from space took the art to an extreme, giving us miracles such as Google Earth, and Carl Sagan's evocative allusion to Earth as the ‘pale blue dot' in space. More recently still, drones have become commonplace as vehicles for aerial photography.

Posingis and Sansoni have combined their efforts to compile a wonderful book of photographs of Sri Lanka from the air, all taken from helicopters.


There is, however, a rub: the remote-controlled camera, as on a drone, disconnects the cameraman from the camera. It deprives him of his virtuosity, leaving him free to do little more than define the frame. While that's perfectly good enough for the likes of you and me, it isn't nearly good enough for the likes of Sebastian Posingis and Dominc Sansoni. And as if to rub salt into that wound, Posingis and Sansoni have combined their efforts to compile a wonderful book of photographs of Sri Lanka from the air, all taken from helicopters. The images are embellished with a characteristically elegant text by Richard Simon, essentially detailed and informative footnotes to the locations illustrated by the photographs. What distinguishes these images from the photographs taken from drones is the expert photographer behind the viewfinder.


I know from personal experience, however, that taking photographs from helicopters is no easy task. Helicopters are noisy machines that, even at a distance of several hundred metres, distract both humans and other animals. Add to that the vibration and the downdraft howling through the craft's open doors, and the challenge before the shutter-bug turns near insurmountable.

Providing as it does an altogether novel view of this country, there is nothing cliché about the pictures in ‘Sri Lanka: The Island from Above’.


Sansoni and Posingis have been able to capture some truly breathtaking images of Sri Lanka from the air. They clearly have a keen eye for composition; a stunning appreciation of light, shadow and colour; and an uncanny ability to introduce drama into their photographs.


‘The Island from Above' brings to light a completely different aspect of the photographers' talent and skill. Many of the views will delight those who, like me, are able to discern unintended patterns in random images, such as faces in clouds or a hare on the moon. The book is full of such illusions, especially the recurring images of the teardrop outline of the island in the most extraordinary places. Providing as it does an altogether novel view of this country, there is nothing cliché about the pictures in ‘Sri Lanka: The Island from Above'. The book provides an altogether new perspective of the island that even those of us who've been anaesthetised by the familiarity of our landscape through decades of travel and sight-seeing will find refreshing. And to top it all, pretty much every one of the 150 photographs is a work of art.


I believe ‘Sri Lanka: The Island from Above' will initiate a new genre in Sri Lankan photography.

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    Jungle Beach in Galle

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    Fort Hammenhiel, a fort built by the Portuguese to guard the entrance to the Jaffna peninsula

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    Kalpitiya, flying over an island that resembles Sri Lanka

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    Beautifully pruned tea plantation in the hill country

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    Abstract of salt flats at Hambantota

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